It’s Monday night, and dozens of teens are gathered in an auditorium. They sing along as a guitarist strums a tune. They’ll spend the next hour watching humorous skits, playing wacky games, and listening to a Christian-inspired message about life.
No, it’s this isn’t a church youth group, but it is what you might encounter at a typical Young Life meeting in our neighborhood.
Young Life is a non-denominational Christian group for high school students at public and private schools in 53 countries. It began here in Dallas 66 years ago as a way for teenagers to explore the Christian faith in a non-threatening environment. Today, its mission remains much the same.
“Basically, Young Life is a chance for teens to hear a Christian message and decide for themselves what they want to believe,” says John Paul Schulze, who oversees the W.T. White High School Young Life club. “Young Life is a place where people can come as they are, and the door is always open.”
And the kids you find at Young Life aren’t necessarily the same kids you’d find at a church youth group.
“Young Life actually aims for the kids who don’t go to church, because the goal is to reach those who haven’t been exposed to Christianity,” says Remy Fellman, who oversees the Young Life club for St. Mark’s and Hockaday schools. “I was actually raised in a Jewish home, but after I got involved with Young Life, I made the decision to become Christian. Not everyone might make that decision, which is OK, but we at least want to give them the chance to hear the message.”
In Preston Hollow, W.T. White and Hillcrest high schools each have their own Young Life clubs, and another club exists for a cluster of neighborhood private schools. All local Young Life clubs meet weekly, and any interested students can attend. There is no fee to join, and no official members.
“We don’t have membership because we want kids to feel free to just come when they can,” says Matt Ravanesi, who oversees the Young Life club for neighborhood private schools. “We have some kids who make it to every meeting, and some who only come to a few. Whatever they can commit to is okay with us, because we’re just happy they show up.”
And while these weekly club meetings are a big part of Young Life, regional Young Life director Nick Manos says the volunteer leaders are really the heart and soul of the mission. He says most of these volunteers are college kids or young professionals who “know and love Young Life because they were a part of it in high school, and now want to give back to the next generation of kids.”
“Young Life is about the stuff that happens between club,” he says. “Our Young Life leaders build solid relationships with these kids. Whether it’s going out to lunch, seeing a movie, playing a game of flag football, or even just meeting for a cup of coffee, this is a chance for kids to have a constructive relationship in their lives. These Young Life leaders do a lot of good in these kids’ lives.”
Neighborhood mom Louisa Meyer sits on the North Dallas Young Life Committee, an advisory board for the group, and she can attest to the benefits of Young Life.
“I can think of several times where I was saddened to hear about kids I knew who made bad decisions. But when I later learned that their behavior had changed, I also discovered it was under the loving guidance of one of our Young Life leaders,” she says.
For that reason, Meyer and other neighborhood parents feel Young Life is worth supporting. In fact, all of the Young Life’s funding comes from neighborhood donations. And right now, local Young Life clubs are preparing for the biggest fundraiser of the year: the fall banquet.
“The fall banquet is a chance for parents, or anyone else who is interested, to find out what Young Life is doing in their community,” Schulze says. “We try to recreate the Young Life club experience so they can see firsthand what it’s all about. There’s music, skits and games, just like we have at our usual clubs. It’s a lot of fun, so we hope the neighborhood comes out to enjoy themselves, and just learn a little more about who we are here at Young Life.”
Anyone interested can help out by volunteering to host a table of 10 at the fall banquet Tuesday, Oct. 23. There is no fee to host a table, and there is no fee to attend the banquet. Donations will be accepted after the presentation from people who like what they see and want to give, but Young Life leaders say the goal of each banquet is to inform neighbors, not to dig into their wallets.
The fall banquet will benefit Young Life clubs at Hillcrest, W.T. White high schools, as well as North Dallas area private schools.